Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor receive top billing for autumn salmon fishing

Karyl Beyerle of Olympia with a 20 pound king. Big fish like this can be found at places along the inner-coast waterways and estuaries in fall. Credit photo to Tony Floor.

By Mark Yuasa

Now that ocean salmon fisheries have concluded, it’s time for anglers to shift attention to estuaries and lower tributaries as fish migrate upstream heading into autumn.

One area garnering plenty of notice lately is Willapa Bay where a king forecast of 36,805 (32,674 are of hatchery origin) have started to appear in catches, and fishing has been decent since it opened on Aug. 1.

“I give high marks as we head into (September), and the main herd of the local king run typically peaks historically around Labor Day,” said Tony Floor, the director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association.

“When WIllapa opened on first of August they had one of their best early fisheries ever, and that can be based on Columbia River kings dipping into the Washaway Beach area (located west of Tokeland),” Floor said. “The first 10 days were very good and it has cooled off since but still kicking out some fish.”

Salmon fishing this past Saturday during the Willapa Day Salmon Derby was good with some anglers hooking multiple fish between Channel Markers 13 and 19 during the mid-day incoming tide.

The hatchery chinook fishery will continue to produce glory moments now through the end of this month.

Those will be followed on the heels of what should be a very nice return of coho from the middle of this month through October. The forecast is 91,718 (54,998 are of hatchery origin) compared to 67,609 (28,093) last year.

On the bigger tidal exchanges grass can be a problem for anglers and will foul up fishing gear.

“I’ve heard the grass was minimal early on, but as we have these long hot summer days the grass has become more problematic in the past week to 10 days,” Floor said. “Grass is horrific on the ebb tide, and worse on bigger tide exchanges. The best way to avoid this is by fishing during the softer tidal series.”

This is a shallow water fishery so letting out 12 to 16 pulls of line at depths of 15 to 25 feet is key to get your presentation spinning just off the sandy bottom. Gear is similar to the Buoy-10 salmon fishery where an angler will use a five- to seven-ounce drop sinker attached to a three-way slip swivel with a Kone Zone flasher to a six- to eight-foot leader and cut-plug or whole herring.

Willapa Bay is open now through Jan. 31 with a six fish daily limit and only three may be adults. Minimum size limit is 12 inches, and release wild chinook. The two-pole endorsement is allowed.

The non-tribal commercial gill-net fishery gets underway on Sept. 16, and word to the wise is avoid going when the nets are in the water. For a netting schedule, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/commercial/salmon/season_setting.html.

Moving up the coast, Grays Harbor is another fall salmon fishery that is definitely worth trip when it opens on Sept. 16, and while chinook are off-limits look for this spot to produce big, brawny coho that can reach in upwards of 20 pounds.

The Grays Harbor coho forecast is 86,398 (50,043 are of wild origin) compared to 27,841 last year, which is a remarkable turn-around. On the other-hand the chinook outlook of 21,824 (5,362 are of hatchery origin), but will allow an in-river fishery in Humptulips River that opened on Sept. 1.

“I would anglers who plan to fish Grays Harbor is to be very knowledgeable with the rules as they change from year-to-year,” Floor said.

Just as a refresher on the rules right now the Humptulips North Bay fishery is open through Sept. 15 with a daily limit of two salmon combined, and release wild coho. The eastern Grays Harbor fishery opens Sept. 16 through Nov. 30 with a daily limit of two salmon combined, and only one wild coho may be retained and release all chinook.

Another fun coho-only fishery in early fall is the Westport Boat Basin which is open through Jan. 31, but the best action usually occurs now through October. The daily limit is six salmon, and no more than four may be adult fish. Release chinook, no night fishing and an anti-snagging rule is in effect. Only single-barbless hooks may be used.

The boat ride from the Westport Marina to the main fishing ground takes about 15 minutes along the harbor’s south channel toward an area off the Johns River mouth. Start at the “Goal Post” – a set of rotting wood pilings – near entrance marker off the Johns River.

Plan on trolling in an easterly direction where a trough runs east and west along the shoreline toward the Chehalis River mouth. Many will use Stearns Bluff, a landmark hillside east of the Johns River as the ending spot.

The gear is a six-ounce drop sinker attached to a three-way slip swivel with a Kone Zone flasher to a six-foot leader and a whole or cut-plug herring. Simply let out 12 to 16 pulls of fishing line — since this is a shallow water fishery at depths of 15 to 25 feet — and make sure your bait is spinning just a foot or so off the sandy bottom.

Constantly check your gear as the harbor can be loaded with eel grass mainly on a low tide when its pulled away from shore.

“Fish don’t like salad on your bait,” according to Floor.

The action occurs during the flood tide, but there can be brief bites on the ebb tide too. Getting out at the crack of dawn is how it works at Grays Harbor, and here it’s all about tides.

There are three major boat launches in Grays Harbor, and the four-lane ramp at Westport is the most convenient. Next is a small two-lane ramp ideal for smaller boats just inside the Johns River. Both are best to access the south channel.

The other is the 28th Street launch in Hoquiam just inside the Chehalis River mouth, and is best to access the north channel fishery.

Use caution when running your boat from any of the launch sites, and always be sure to follow the channel markers as there are many shallow sandbars (especially at low tide) where you can ground a vessel. Also be aware of large ships traveling to and from the ocean.

Mark Yuasa
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle

Look to the Upper Columbia For Summer Salmon Action

Shane Magnuson helps me show off a dandy king I landed fishing with him at Chelan Falls. (Dave Graybill Photo)

By Dave Graybill

No other season attracts more anglers to the upper Columbia River than when the summer-run and sockeye salmon seasons open on July 1st every year. While most salmon seasons are announced by Emergency Regulations on the upper Columbia, the summer-run salmon earned a permanent listing in the Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet over a decade ago. This is the time of the year anglers can count on visiting Central Washington and expect to find excellent numbers of Chinook salmon to fill their coolers.

The first place that salmon anglers focus their attention is above Priest Rapids Dam. There are a couple of spots that some anglers will troll in the early season, such as right above the dam and off the mouth of Crab Creek near Schwana. The biggest crowd will be found right below Wanapum Dam. Here boats circle around in what is known as the “Toilet Bowl” where hordes of early-arriving kings stack up before entering the fish ladder and moving on up river. Anglers also encounter returning sockeye salmon, and they can be seen surfacing in waves along the face of the rip rap bank. It is not unusual for sockeye to be taken on gear intended for kings.

Most of the boats will be trolling Super Baits behind flashers below Wanapum. Some will fish lighter sockeye gear on a couple of rods after the morning bite has slowed. The fishing will be good here starting July 1st and for many weeks, until the bulk of the early-returning Chinook and sockeye have passed on to the upper river. There is a much-improved staging and parking area right below Wanapum. Still there can be a very long line of boats waiting to launch before daylight on opening day. There is also a very good launch on the opposite shore, on Huntzinger Road below the dam. When running up to Wanapum, take special care and watch for shallow, rocky reefs. There is a small area on the west side of the river where boats will troll for salmon just above Wanapum Dam, and a few will even fish the east side of the river below the Vantage Bridge. This is near the junction for the road to Mattawa. There is a launch in the town of Vantage, and at the State Park on the west side of the river below the Vantage Bridge.

The next major fishing locations for summer-runs and sockeye are on the Columbia at Wenatchee. There are good areas to find Chinook scattered “between the bridges” on either side of the river here. There is excellent access to the river via improved launches. One is at the base of Orondo Street, and is free of charge. Another is at Confluence State Park, where a Discovery Pass and launch fee is required. Walla Walla Point, below the mouth of the Wenatchee River, is one of the best-known fishing spots for Chinook. Sockeye and Chinook are also taken below Rocky Reach Dam. When the fish are really pouring through this area and over Rocky Reach Dam there are many kings and sockeye taken above Rocky Reach. Anglers launch at Lincoln Rock State Park (Discovery Pass and launch fee required), which is on the Douglas County or east side of the river, and run over to troll the west shore along the highway to Entiat and Chelan. In recent years the fishing for Chinook has been very good for summer-run salmon off the mouth of the Entiat River.

I struggle to hold up one of the two kings that Shane Magnuson and I landed at Chelan Falls. (Dave Graybill Photo)

Rapidly becoming a favorite of salmon anglers, particularly in the early season, is Chelan Falls. Located just below the Beebe Bridge, with PUD parks with free launches on both sides of the river, this spot is loaded with kings. Success has been very good here in recent years, and there is lots of good water for trolling Super Baits behind flashers on downriggers or with lead balls. One of the reasons that Chelan Falls has become popular is the high ratio of hatchery origin fish in catches. This is due to the net pen releases of smolt in the Chelan River channel. Another benefit of fishing this area is that it is about a 15- to 20-minute run up to Wells Dam. When sockeye are returning in good numbers, the fishing is very good, particularly in the big eddy on the north side of the river right below the dam.

Wells Dam is an excellent place to fish for kings. Anglers will troll off the bar below the dam and the big eddy on the opposite side of the river also produces very good catches of salmon. There is an excellent launch accessed from the highway that leads to Pateros. Some sockeye are taken above the dam and fishing for Chinook is very good when big numbers of fish are crossing over Wells Dam.

The crown jewel of salmon fishing on the upper river is the Brewster Pool, where the Okanogan River enters the Columbia. The Okanogan is a shallow, slow moving river and in the summer it gets very warm. When it enters the Columbia it creates a “thermal barrier” that keeps the salmon from moving up into the Okanogan. Kings continue to move up into the Brewster Pool from the lower river and stack up in the colder water of the Pool. Thousands of fish are milling around in this area, and are easy prey to anglers. Sockeye also prefer this colder water and join the kings in their wait for temperatures to drop in the Okanogan before they make their way up the river and on to their spawning grounds in British Columbia.

I love this shot of an angler scooping a nice king from the water at Chelan Falls. (Dave Graybill Photo)

This thermal barrier is one of the reasons that the Brewster Salmon Derby, which takes place the first weekend in August every year, is so popular. The success rate for anglers that participate in this derby is the best for salmon derbies anywhere. To learn all about the derby, visit www.brewstersalmonderby.com.

Something that salmon anglers should know that makes this particular season special on the upper Columbia is that it is the first return of four-year old Chinook salmon that were released from the Colville Tribal Fish Hatchery at Bridgeport. These will add to the numbers of fish available to anglers in the Brewster Pool and on up the river where they meet their final barrier on the Columbia River, Chief Joseph Dam. Summer-run Chinook season is a selective fishery, with barbless hooks required and wild fish must be released. Not only will the fish returning to the Colville Hatchery add to the numbers of fish in the Brewster Pool, they are all adipose fin clipped, keepers. The opportunity for catching a king and keeping it is significantly higher this year in the Brewster Pool and the river up to Chief Joseph Dam. There is the potential for a rule change affecting the Brewster Pool that may make fishing here even more attractive to anglers. Watch the department’s web site for this change.

The techniques that are used throughout the Columbia River, in all of the locations I have mentioned don’t vary much. There are some that stick to the tried and true plug cut herring, and those that really know how to properly cut and prepare herring have success. By far the most popular method being used at this time for catching kings is with the Super Bait. Some use the old, banana-shaped style and more and more anglers are using the newer plug cut version. Super Baits come in wide variety of colors, but some of the more popular are the Hot Tamale, Lemon Lime and Rotten Banana. There are others that work very well, so have a good selection when you hit the water. The advent of the Super Bait made it possible for anglers that had no experience with herring to become successful salmon anglers, and has increased the sport catch on the upper Columbia considerably.

Super Baits are designed to open on a hinge and are stuffed with tuna fish. The lure has vents on the sides to allow the scent of the tuna to leech out. Anglers prefer oil-packed tuna and then apply scent and mix it. There are a variety of scents available and one of the most popular in our area is made by Northwest Bait and Scent. These are based on the formula originally developed by my brother Rick Graybill many years ago. There are a number of scents that can be mixed, even in combination with others to create an irresistible attractant to salmon.

These are trolled behind a flasher, and most anglers are using the ones made by Pro-Toll. The fin on the bottom end of the flasher allows the flasher to turn at even an slow speed and it also gives a consistent action to the flasher. It is recommended that at least a 42-inch leader be used from the flasher to the bait. This set up can be trolled on downriggers or with lead balls. When trolling with flashers behind downriggers, put the flasher 12 to 15 feet behind the ball. Trolling speed will vary with river current, but flashers with Super Baits can be trolled over 2.0 mph. Many anglers like to see a one second throb on the rod when trolling flashers. Most anglers prefer rods of 10 ½ feet with large capacity-line, counter reels for consistent placement of baits behind the boat.

When targeting sockeye, anglers scale down their tackle. Lighter rods and reels and lines are all used. A typical sockeye set up is a small dodger and short leader to double hooks which are closely tied together. Bait is allowed on the Columbia and jarred shrimp are very popular. On the Brewster Pool it is typical to start the day at 20 feet deep and drop down as the day brightens. Many place their dodgers just 10 to 20 feet behind the downrigger ball. Trolling sockeye set ups on lead balls is becoming popular, too.

I have produced several videos on both Chinook and sockeye fishing on the upper Columbia. I would suggest that you visit my web site at www.fishingmagician.com and go to the Fishing TV Page. By going to the archives and looking for videos posted in June and July you will find many devoted to salmon fishing. You can also do a search at www.youtubedavegraybill and find all the videos I have produced.

I am really looking forward to this year’s salmon season on the upper Columbia. Although other seasons have been disappointing on the river, this one could be outstanding for those who fish above Priest Rapids Dam.

Dave Graybill
Outdoor Line Blogger – North Central Washington
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

It’s Here – Daiwa Lexa Line Counter!

By Rob Endsley

lexa_line_counter

Daiwa’s new Lexa 300 line counter is a compact powerhouse that will put plenty of salmon, steelhead, and tuna in the boat here in the Pacific Northwest. With the Lexa’s buttery smooth Ultimate Tournament Carbon Drag anglers can finesse a big steelhead or walleye on light line or slam the breaks on a running Chinook or albacore. It also makes it a great all around reel for Pacific Northwest guides that make the seasonal switch from salmon and steelhead to walleye.

With 22 pounds of drag you can do just about anything with this reel. Saltwater salmon, ling cod, and tuna suddenly become fair game with this low profile reel.

The Lexa 300 line counter holds 240 pounds of 40 pound braid and is equipped with a  braid-ready spool with cutouts for tying off braid. No more wrapping electrical tape around the spool or backing with monofilament to keep the braid from spinning on the spool.

Most line counters are built with trolling in mind but this one also has Magforce cast control which makes casting a breeze. This makes for quick redeployment of the gear when the bite is on.

lexa_line_counter2

The line counter on the Lexa 300 is centered and the numbers are easy to read. The reel also comes with Daiwa’s “Swept Handle” that places the paddle closer to the rod.

Daiwa also has plans for a Lexa 400 line counter slated for release next year. That reel will very likely end up as mooching reel on my charter boat in Southeast Alaska.

The other nice thing about the new Lexa line counter is that you can find it in both left and right handed versions and two gear ratios, 5.5:1 and 6.3:1.

As of this blog very limited supplies of the new Lexa 300 line counter have been shipped to retailers and you won’t even find it on Daiwa’s website. They will retail at around $199 and expect to see them in stores sometime in early November. Definitely worth the wait!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
www.theoutdoorline.com

Buoy 10!

Jason Humbly of Pro-Cure with a Buoy 10 King

Jason Humbly of Pro-Cure with a Buoy 10 King

Good bait and perseverance will pay off when it comes to salmon fishing, especially Buoy 10 fishing. It all started the night before our trip as Jason Hambly put a few empty jars into the kitchen sink. He then stuffed them with herring and poured in some rock salt. There was no need for any tap water, frowned upon anyways due to chlorine and fluoride treatments, but instead he filled the jars with Pro-Cure’s Brine ‘n Bite Complete. One jar had Chartreuse-the other three with Natural-but in one of those he added a few droppers of Anise Oil.

Plug Cut Herring cured in Pro-Cure Brine 'n Bite Natural

Plug Cut Herring cured in Pro-Cure Brine ‘n Bite Natural

After a night in the cure it was time to fish. The morning was rough, both in water conditions and in fishing. First heading to the Washington side after launching in Astoria, Oregon we began our troll. Yakima Bait Company’s “Big Al’s Fish Flash” trailing a 16-ounce dropper that we kept close to the sandy bottom. Behind the in-line flasher were those Brine ‘n Bite Complete cured herring-plug cut by Hambly-and rigged on tandem 3/0 hooks.

Early morning calm at Buoy 10

Early morning calm at Buoy 10

The morning was cloudy and the winds calmed for a bit as the tide went slack. For just a little while it was nice out, and calm. But still very few fish being caught. So we motored over to the Oregon side.

Waves and wind kicked up with the tide change while passing cargo ships

Waves and wind kicked up with the tide change while passing cargo ships

Passing anchored cargo ships we started picking up a few bites. My son Ryan got the first fish of the day, a small Chinook but it was perfect for him to reel in.

Ryan Brooks with the first Chinook of the day

Ryan Brooks with the first Chinook of the day

Next up was Dave Dunsterville, a friend from Vancouver, British Columbia. But his fish was a small Tule and back into the Columbia it went.

A small Tule that was tossed back into the Columbia

A small Tule that was tossed back into the Columbia

After a few hours Hambly switched to the Anise scented herring and hooked a giant Chinook. He fought it hard to the boat as Dave was able to get the net under it.

Jason Humbly with a nice Up  River Bright Chinook that fell for Anise Oil infused into the plug cut herring

Jason Humbly with a nice Up River Bright Chinook that fell for Anise Oil infused into the plug cut herring

A couple passes later and finally it was my time to fight a Buoy 10 Chinook, this one also couldn’t resist the Anise in Brine ‘n Bite Natural.

The author and his son with a Buoy 10 Chinook of his own

The author and his son with a Buoy 10 Chinook of his own

We fished for 10 hours and all of our fish came on the second tide change of the day. Most of the other boats had already left the fishing grounds several hours before we even hooked our first fish. Even at the end of the day our herring was still firm and bright. By changing up colors, scents and adding a few additional scents we found what combination was wanted by the fish on this tough conditions day. Good brined bait and perseverance pays off, especially at Buoy 10 where you can be rewarded with a huge Upriver Bright Chinook like Hambly’s.

Having several scents along and good brined herring that last in the turbulent waters of  Buoy 10 leads to success

Having several scents along and good brined herring that last in the turbulent waters of Buoy 10 leads to success

Chelan Falls Summer Kings

Shane Magnuson of Upper Columbia Guide Service on the net-Jason Brooks

Shane Magnuson of Upper Columbia Guide Service on the net-Jason Brooks

Chelan Falls Summer Kings-by Jason Brooks

Summer is heating up and as July keeps rolling along the Chinook keep climbing the fish ladders at the dams along the Columbia River. That is until they hit the cold water being spilled from Lake Chelan. A fairly new fishery for Upper Columbia summer Chinook are fish returning to the net pens located at the base of the outfall from the power plant where water is flushed from a large pipe and a trickle from the Chelan gorge into the warm waters of the Columbia. This area is known as the Chelan Falls fishery.

Summer sunrise at Chelan Falls on the Columbia River-Jason Brooks

Summer sunrise at Chelan Falls on the Columbia River-Jason Brooks

Early morning is without doubt prime time. The summer sun shines very bright here and it seems to turn the bite off along with the heat that goes along with it causing anglers to want to head to the local swimming hole instead of the fishing hole.

Early morning trolling at Chelan Falls-Jason Brooks

Early morning trolling at Chelan Falls-Jason Brooks

Most fish are caught in pre-dawn hours until the sun hits the water around 7:00 in the morning. This is a shallow water fishery with the bottom being around 25 to 30 feet and covered in milfoil. This means the downriggers are set at 15 feet and some elect to use a drop weight system with 4 ounce cannonballs.

Flat-lining plugs such as Brad's Killer Fish 14's in Rotten Banana entice bites-Jason Brooks

Flat-lining plugs such as Brad’s Killer Fish 14’s in Rotten Banana entice bites-Jason Brooks

A standard trolling set up at Chelan Falls is a Mack’s Double D Dodger in silver and green, a 36” to 48” leader of Izorline 30 pound XXX trailing a Brad’s Superbait or Super Cut Plug. Popular colors are Hot Tamale or Lava, but another “new” color that is producing this summer is Rotten Banana in the mini-cut plug. Stuff the baits with canned tuna or herring and soak them heavily with Pro-Cure Super Gel in Anise Bloody Tuna. Since this is a shallow water troll and you are allowed to fish two poles with the endorsement it is beneficial to throw an extra rod out flatling a Brad’s Killer Fish size 14 in the Rotten Banana color.

Brad Wagner of Bobber Down Guide Service with a typical Chelan Falls Upriver Chinook-Brad Wagner photo

Brad Wagner of Bobber Down Guide Service with a typical Chelan Falls Upriver Chinook-Brad Wagner photo

Launch at the County PUD park located just past the Chelan Falls Bridge and then motor back over to the mouth of the Chelan River, trolling the western shoreline all the way back up to the bridge. Make sure to stay a bit out in the channel otherwise you will foul your gear in the milfoil along the shoreline. If you want to learn this fishery there are two premier guides that fish it, Shane Magnuson (509-264-7684 or www.uppercolumbiaguide.com) of Upper Columbia Guide Service who lives in Leavenworth and Brad Wagner (509-670-3095 or www.fishwenatchee.com) of Bobber Down Guide Service out of Wenatchee. Since they live in the area they know this fishery well. In fact I was out trying my best this past weekend and witnessed Shane land 5 fish before 7:00 AM on Saturday. Then I got a message from Brad who let me know that his boat caught 6 Chinook before 6:00 AM today. The key to both guides in that they are on the water early. There is plenty of room to fish and it doesn’t get too crowded.

Englefield Again: Provin’ it!

After our unbelievable first trip to WestCoast Resorts Englefield Bay last year, my son Matt and I could not wait to get back up there. In fact, we were so fired up about our amazing experience that we put a 710 ESPN Listener trip together so we could share the Englefield experience with listeners and friends.

In fact, we’re announcing a second chance trip in late August

Did the trip live up to expectations? Without a doubt it did! Most anglers on the trip had their best chinook days ever in both numbers and size! Bottomfish? How about two ling cod per day with no size restrictions and six in possession! Couple that with two halibut and a pile of rockfish and you are talking new home freezer time!

The WestCoast Resorts Englefield equation for success is solid. Place a floating lodge alone in a remote location accessible only by boat and helicopter.

Oh, the helicopters…C’mon now, aren’t you the least bit intrigued by a fishing trip that begins and ends with a heliopter ride?

Or, more correctly a Helijet which we boarded in Sandspit after our chartered 737 flight from Vancouver, BC.IMG_0880

 

As the lodge comes into view we’re just stunned by the remoteness and beauty of the luxurious, floating lodge at Englefield Bay.IMG_0521 (Medium)

 

Once we’re on the docks the level of organization and experience of the WestCoast Resorts operation is readily apparent. Every boat  is clean, identically rigged and READY!IMG_0536 (Medium)

 

 

The info board is updated daily and hooks you up with weather, tides and hot spots. No secrets here! Since the only boats in the area are from the lodge and fish are plentiful, info is shared freely.IMG_0889

 

After the brief lodge orientation, we jump into our gear and we’re off fishing before noon on our first day!IMG_9100 (Medium)

 

And just how good is the midday chinook bite at Englefield Bay? Well, we only kept three that first day so wouldn’t burn through our four chinook per angler possession limit but we had a double-digit king bite the first afternoon! Simply stated the most smokin’ hot chinook bite I had seen all season which included a three-week stint running my boat in Sitka, Alaska.IMG_0325 (Medium)

 

The next morning, I went out with Chef Patrick Fagan of Bait2Plate.com and my summer on air pard John Martinis. We absolutely STUFFED the fishbox with ling cod, yelloweye, black rockfish and chinook!John&Patrick 

 

The next day? Well, halibut was on the itinerary and we were again very successful but here is the thing that you need to know: Once you’re back at the lodge, the dock staff label, weigh, process and vacuum pack your fish while you relax in the lounge!

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Our final morning, we had our possession limits of bottomfish in the lodge freezer so we got to concentrate on chinook and again, the bite was simply epic! Matt Nelson and John Martinis are working a double which started out as a triple but someone had to take the picture…IMG_0471 (Medium)

 

After the fishing was done, I couldn’t help but take a few pics on the way in to the lodge. The beauty of Haida Gwaii, the Queen Charlotte Islands is well known but this untouched tide pool with a small stream entering it would be an even more fascinating sight in the fall with a few salmon sneaking in when the bears came to feed!IMG_0496 (Medium)

 

The anglers that came along on our Listener trip were very successful and while the fish you take home is not the only way to measure an adventure such as this, it’s interesting to note that the 44 anglers boxed catch weighed over 4500 pounds!IMG_0895

 

The helicopter flight out of the lodge was accompanied with a stitch of sadness but also a feeling of satisfaction for a trip that was thoroughly enjoyed by all.IMG_0553 (Medium)

 

Back at Sandspit Airport, we literally walked off the Helijet and walked right on to the jet to Vancouver where we landed before noon and headed back home over the border.IMG_0623 (Medium)

 

We all played “Horse” on the basketball court when we were kids and after that last shot that hung that “E” on you, the ball was flipped back to your opponent with a defiant “prove it”,

That’s what this trip to Englefield Bay meant to me. After an unbelievable first trip last year highlighted by a tyee for my son and a memorable Father’s Day for all.

WestCoast Resorts has repeated that feat, essentially “proving it” and now Englefield Bay is permanently carved in stone in my annual angling itinerary and I hope you’ll consider making it part of yours.

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

The Versatile Drift Boat

by Jason Brooks

If you ask me what is the most versatile watercraft to pursuit salmon and steelhead I would have to say it’s the drift boat. With its distinctive up curved ends and flat bottom designed and built to float in skinny northwest rivers it also handles bigger waters such as mainstream rivers, estuaries, and bays. Add in the fact that they are extremely economical with very little maintenance and it’s no wonder that their popularity is making a huge comeback.

A drift boat is a great way to enjoy a relaxing  day of fishing -Jason Brooks

A drift boat is a great way to enjoy a relaxing day of fishing -Jason Brooks

It all started on the McKenzie River in Oregon, or at least that is the legend of where the drift boat originated. In fact some people still call them McKenzie drifters, or just plain McKenzie boats. First made of wood the early boats proved to be useful for getting down a river. If you hit a rock or damaged the hull you could patch it with some basic hand tools, back when most people actually still used hand tools and made a lot of their own boats. Nowadays with modern fabrications the wooden boat is all but gone, though you can still find them for sale on Craigslist. They are more for nostalgia as wood boats are a bit heavier and tend to not row as easy. So the modern argument for this old design is fiberglass or metal when it comes to hull materials.

Aluminum boats are thought to be "cold" -Jason Brooks

Aluminum boats are thought to be “cold” -Jason Brooks

I see it posted several times on internet forums, usually around the time the Outdoor Trade Shows or Boat Shows start up. Someone will get the itch to buy a drift boat and ask fellow fishers what they should get, a “glass” or metal boat. I sit back and read the replies from the internet experts until I can’t take it anymore and chime in my opinion. I start by saying that if the person who is thinking about buying a drift boat has never rowed one to first take a guided trip. It is well worth the money to see if you really want to invest in one of these boats. This usually leads to my next bit of advice, take it or leave it, but I think anyone who wants to get into their first drift boat should buy a used one. Now, before the advertisers of this site get too mad, I am only advocating this for the first time buyer, as soon enough the person will want to upgrade and look to have a boat manufacturer make a custom boat for them.

The fiberglass boat can be lighter than aluminum -Jason Brooks

The fiberglass boat can be lighter than aluminum -Jason Brooks

Here is my reasons why you should consider used for your first drift boat and why a guided trip is a must prior to the purchase. If you have patience and look at sale sites for any length of time you will find those ads by people who offer up a practically new boat for half the cost. Ones where the person decided to get a drift boat and spent the money only to float a river and find out that rowing can be harder than it looks. Either it scared them to have no control over the fact you have to go down the river, or they were too sore to care to row ever again. Also, drift boats hold up pretty well, even boats that have some road rash or a few dents float just fine. You can find really good deals on boats that are 10 years old or older, and really the design of the boat hasn’t changed in 50 years so age isn’t much of a factor. The main difference between a new boat and a used one are options. When buying used you are stuck with what the previous owner purchased. This can work in your favor as a bare bones boat is lighter and easier to row than one that has lots of bells and whistles.

New boats are nice and once you own a drift boat and become proficient at rowing one you will get the itch to order your own boat. This is mostly because each person is slightly different when it comes to fishing styles. I like to drift fish and float eggs under a bobber, but another buddy of mine likes pulling plugs and throwing hardware. So for me multiple rod holders, bait trays, motor mount, and other accessories are a must. For the guy who likes to pull plugs you want it set up with pole holders, a heater for those cold days where the front passengers are just sitting idle watching the rod tips thump.

Heaters make for a comfortable day when it's cold -Jason Brooks

Heaters make for a comfortable day when it’s cold -Jason Brooks

This brings us back to the argument of “glass” versus metal. I really don’t have a preference but I do own a metal boat and one of my buddies owns a fiberglass boat. Both are great boats and ironically my boat actually floats higher in the water than his does. Most think that the material matters, and to some degree it does, but so does design. His is a 16 foot by 48 inch bottom. Mine is a 16 foot by 54 inch bottom. That extra width at the bottom of the boat is what allows mine to float or draft higher and slip through in shallower waters and makes it react to rowing a bit quicker. His is “warmer” as my metal boat becomes an ice bucket during those early spring steelhead trips.

Being able to row around debris and in skinny water make the drift boat versatile -Jason Brooks

Being able to row around debris and in skinny water make the drift boat versatile -Jason Brooks

Okay, if you just read all of this and are scratching your head at what the heck I am talking about; “how it rows, reacts faster, floats higher”. Here is what drift boaters are talking about. The boat is designed to float with very little displacement, or otherwise known to float high in the water by its flat bottom design. With the stern and bow raised is allows the water to push the boat up as the water flows underneath. As you row backwards you pull the boat up and away from where the bow is pointed. If the boat is heavy or narrow and sits lower in the water there is more drag or resistance and you need to row harder, either faster or by digging you oars deeper into the water. Fiberglass boats are slick and have less coefficient of friction on the bottom because of the materials they are made from. Fiberglass that is coated with a gel coat has very little resistance in the water, where metal boats have tiny grooves or pores which tend to cause more friction in the water. To overcome this metal boat owners put a coating on the bottom of the boat and with new Kevlar materials these coatings can stand up to a few years of use. But they must be up kept, one of the downfalls of a metal boat. Fiberglass boats do wear out and can have soft spots or leaks from hitting rocks or gouges from sliding over gravel bars.

Drift boats require very little maintenance -Jason Brooks

Drift boats require very little maintenance -Jason Brooks

All drift boats have some basic maintenance requirements, but not many. This is another bonus for owning one these boats. If you put a motor on one you must also license it. Keep the motor off and stay away from Federal or navigable waters defined by the Coast Guard and there is no need to license it in Washington (check your local laws). With the motor you can easily fish close to shore in bays and estuaries and also motor up the deep holes and slot in rivers to float them again. But one of my favorite reasons to own this versatile boat is that it is quiet and allows you to really pay attention to fishing and relax while floating down a river.

Jason Brooks
Northwest Outdoor Writer

 

Adventures Without “Reservations”…

My first taste of the annual lower Columbia salmon bonanza known as Buoy 10 was over a decade ago and ever since, the challenge of this huge river mouth fishery has captivated a part of my thoughts and, an increasing part of my fishing plans!

After a season of deep downrigger trolling for chinook –which I love by the way- there is something about a savage shallow water strike from a big king on a short length of braid that is violently refreshing and exciting all at the same time!

The average size of these Columbia River fall chinook and coho is impressive, their fight is inspiring and they perform on the dinner table and in the smoker as well as any fish you’ll find up and down the coast. After reading all that it should come as no surprise that finding a way to comfortably and economically spend some time at this world class fishery is definitely my plan. Options for accommodations are limited and can be expensive on the lower Columbia. I’ve tried the Washington side but I prefer Astoria, Oregon.

Is it because Astoria has the only Starbucks on either side of the lower Columbia? I’ll have to take the Fifth Amendment on that inquiry…

Thankfully, our friends at Roy Robinson Chevrolet RV suggested an alternative to booked motels with no boat parking!

That “alternative” came in the form of a Winnebago Journey diesel pusher and once we hooked up to the ESPN Weldcraft “Great White” didn’t look quite as big as it used to…
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Once we got to Astoria, it wasn’t very tough to get the Winnebago Journey “popped out” and set up so it was time to hit the river!aWin Left (Small)We didn’t know it at the time but this year’s Columbia River Chinook run ended up as the 3rd largest since 1938 and they were in a biting mood!

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When we got back to our “Fish Camp”, vacuuming and freezing was a snap as the Winnebago was hooked up to shore power but the on-board generator would have also handled this with ease!

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The fires in Eastern Washington were apparent in this Western Washington morning as the smoke made for a vivid red sunrise.

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The smoky sunrise didn’t slow down the bite and we had a couple days of double-digit hookups.IMG_0160 (Small)

Eric Jorgensen of Roy Robinson Chevy/RV joined us for a couple days of our Astoria Adventure and was rewarded with solid action and BIG CHINOOK!!!

IMG_0138 (Small)I can’t tell you how great it was to come “home” to comfortable furniture, a warm shower and yes, the built-in washer and dryer in the master bath was not too bad either!

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The lasting lesson from this trip was the flexibility that a motorhome can provide you by towing a boat, small vehicle or an ATV to your vacation location. I had never really considered that a confortable, luxurious Motorhome could be a tow vehicle as well but now I know different! If I had not experienced towing my boat to Astoria from Roy Robinson Chevy/RV in Marysville myself, I never would have believed how comfortable and easy it was. The trip itself was a breeze and i did get a kick out of the looks I got when this 80-foot total rig length went cruising by.

See you on the open road!

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

 

Coho Know How!

Last season was a tough one for big coho in local waters but hot on the heels of a large pink salmon run is a very solid showing of chunky coho salmon!

With the Edmonds and Everett Coho Derby looming in the coming weeks, let’s brush up on some silver slaying strategies!

The name of the game is getting a box full of chunky chrome coho!

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One look at the forecasts for Puget Sound coho should make you forget all about the end of summer with over 140,000 headed for the Skagit, 31,000 Stillaguamish silvers, the Snohomish chipping in with over 200,000 and the mid & south Sound totaling over 200,000 more! That’s over 570,000 reasons to get fired up for fall fishing and the upcoming culmination of the Northwest Salmon Derby Series, The Everett Coho Derby.

Robbie Tobeck hoists two chunky coho that would have been a dandy derby day catch!

 

In order to get off to a fast fall start on coho, let’s talk technique & tackle. I tend to view saltwater coho angling in light of chinook techniques. After all, we spend winter, spring and summer targeting chinook and only get a crack at coho in the fall so it’s useful to consider chinook techniques as a “baseline”.

Coho are nothing short of metabolic machines and as such, tend to be interested in smaller offerings trolled faster and shallower than their chinook counterparts. We’ve spent a good part of the summer keeping our gear close to the bottom while running familiar bottom contours. No more! Silvers seemingly avoid structure and have an affinity for the shipping lanes out in the middle of the sound.

Where are the “Shipping Lanes” in Puget Sound? Open up your chart or Navionics Ap, look for the pink shaded areas and the yellow navigational buoys in the center.

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One aspect of successful coho fishing that we need to keep in mind is that we should not have to “scratch” for long periods of time between strikes. Don’t keep grinding for hour after hour without action. Slow periods happen even in the best of days but with the numbers of coho available and their aggressive nature, you should be able to change depths, locations, gear, speed or direction and get it done! Don’t be satisfied with a bite or two!
Quick, morning limits are often the case when the silvers come streaming in!

 

So where do we start our search for silvers?

By looking for Surface activity: Bait jumping, birds working or my personal favorite: tide rips. Generally there is a “dirty side” and a “clean side” of a Puget Sound rip. While trolling, try not to cross the rip and stay on the clean side to minimize gear fouling but don’t feel like you have to “rub” the rip. In other words, if you can clearly see the rip, you’re close enough!

Kevin Gogan and his daughter Hannah were “close enough” to a tide rip for this limit of silvers!

 

To place numbers on the other concepts, start fishing at first light with a cut plug herring six feet behind a blaze orange trolling “kidney” or mooching sinker fished twenty “strips” deep (a two-foot pull of line off of your reel is known as a strip) and run a downrigger 40 feet deep. Keep your speeds in the 2.5 to 3.5 mph speed range which should result in a 45 degree downrigger wire angle assuming you’re using 12 pound Cannonballs. As the light level increases throughout the day, increase your depths and when you hook up, enter a waypoint into your plotter so you can troll back into the school. Silvers tend to mill around and when you find one, there is sure to be more!

Silver Horde’s “Coho Killer” have been a winning piece of gear for not only coho but chinook as well! 

Coho like a very active presentation so shorten up your leaders to the 26-34 inch range behind Luhr Jensen Coyote Flashers and you’re in business!

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Get out there this late summer and enjoy some of the fastest, wildest salmon fishing of the year! Heck, summer isn’t really over…is it????

 

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

Sitka 2015: Adjustments

Every year of our annual sojourn to southeast Alaska, I seek a pattern, a clue or a theme to the location and distribution of fish that may lead to an understanding or “edge”, eventually guiding us to a successful season. We’ve all read -with varying degrees of interest and concern- of the changes in sea surface temperatures in the northeastern Pacific Ocean and little did I know when I boarded the plane to Sitka that the ocean temperatures would play a pivotal role in our approach to this world-class fishery.

Most seasons the predominant chinook forage base in the Sitka area is sand lance, commonly known an “needlefish”. Sand lance are a preferred salmonid food item as they are usually abundant, readily preyed upon by chinook, very rich in oil, easily digested due to their delicate structure and can be packed away by an adult chinook like a belly full of spaghetti!!!

Chinook are so fond of sandlance that a large abundance will virtually stop a migration, making these chinook vulnerable to vertical techniques such as mooching and jigging. The problem this season was that the nutrient-poor warm water had in all probability, reduced local zooplankton (euphausiids and copepod) levels, causing the sand lance population to take a downturn. Sand lance do not roam far from their home sand, so are very dependent upon local conditions and poor food availability can quickly lead to a sand lance population crash.

Herring on the other hand are more mobile and opportunistic feeders and therefore have a better ability to adapt to a changing or re-located food base. The preceding paragraph was the longest possible way of stating that herring was the one and only food item found in the chinook we encountered and since the chinook were not all “ganged up” on a sandlance patch, mooching chinook was not the most effective technique.

What was the most effective technique for us?

Why trolling with downriggers of course!

Greg Copeland of KING 5 and my old buddy Phil Michelsen do the downrigger “Dance” with a fiesty, early morning chinook and Sitka 2015 is well underway!

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Phil Michelsen does battle with a big chinook on a misty morning and little would we know….

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 …that this would be the biggest chinook not only of this trip but of the last several years! A beautiful specimen of over 41 pounds! Phil’s grin just says it all!

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Phil and Greg’s last day was a productive, calm and memorable outing and there was alot of work to do after the “photo shoot”!

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Lauren Bivins of Harbor Marine in Everett and my summer “Robbo replacement” co-host John Martinis jumped in for some very solid Sitka success!

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 Lifelong friend Larry Stauffer and I doubled up on a couple chunky chinook that both fell to trolled whole herring. Overall, the average size of the chinook we encountered was larger which was a reverse of a trend of smaller fish over the past several years.

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My biggest halibut of the season was this 70 pounder that we hooked in over 400 feet of water. My Diawa Tanacom 750 electric reel made short work of this flattie!

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 One of Sitka’s signature landmarks, St. Lazarius Island also know as “Bird” Island looks different with every hour of the day. In this afternoon sun it looks spooky…

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…and in the morning sun as the charter fleet runs by it’s merely a milestone along the way. One of the most wonderful things about fish are the places we must go to find them.

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 Brock Huard is in the third season of his Sitka experience and he seems to enjoy it more each and every year. I feel very fortunate to be able to share some of his precious free time in this wonderful place.

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Sitka remains the angling experience of my life and there is something each and every season that stays with me throughout the year. This year it was the ability to make adjustments that stood out. As anglers, we are very good at going to the same places at the same times to use the same gear to catch our fish. However, change one leg of that triangle and we seem to struggle. The ability to observe changing conditions and make adjustments to our game plan is one of the most valuable traits that an angler can possess.

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com